Dozier’s Grocery & Market, Inc.
Dozier’s Grocery & Market, Inc.
When a decision is made open a restaurant to celebrate area organic farmers and local organic-certified ranchers, a decision has been made to create and refine at least four complete menus every year. When Fort Bend businessman, owner, Ray Salti, made that decision in 2008, he also made the decision to bring Chef Soren Pedersen (formerly chef the Sweetwater Country Club in Sugar Land) back from Seattle where he was cooking in that mecca of local and seasonal cuisine. He opened Ray’s Gourmet Country restaurant, a slick contemporary, yet warm and friendly bar and grill in Fulshear. The restaurant is now celebrating its 3rd Anniversary. That produce that may be grown or raised locally is featured and showcased… and organic. Seafood is wild-caught and is delivered every day… and when it is gone, the servers notify diners that it is gone for the day… so those seeking seafood arrive early. By the way, part of the deal between Salti and Chef Pedersen was that the kitchen staff must be professionally trained… and all current staff have a minimum of five years experience in the kitchen.
Food bloggers are ruining the restaurant business. Eventually something will have to be done about the power of the internet. A bad review from a blogger who had a bad meal has the same power on the internet as a good review from a respected newspaper food critic.
While the restaurant honors the seafood of the Gulf of Mexico, there are dishes such fresh water Pecan Crusted Trout with a rich buttery sherried Decatur Sauce with crabmeat and shrimp that is simply delicious.
Also, don’t make the mistake of thinking that this place is all about fried foods… sauteed and broiled dishes with sophisticated sauces are a source of pride in this kitchen, too.
Growing up in Texas in the early 50’s, my parents packed us into the car (one of our two 1950 Fords) two or three times a year, rolled the windows up in the rain or cold and chain-smoked us down to Harlingen, Raymondville, Brownsville and beyond. Trips to “the valley” were frequent, as our aunt, uncle and cousins lived there. “Mexican” food out was always on the agenda and I remember vividly the colorful chairs in the restaurants across the border, as well as my meals there. I think I have adequate perspective to talk about a restaurant that is selling “vintage Tex-Mex food”.
On weekends in Houston taquerias, Mexican families flock to enjoy Posole, a pork and hominy stew with a rich broth and garnished with sliced radishes, cilantro, chopped fresh jalapenos and onions… and a generous squeeze of lime juice. El Real offers it daily and the green (chile verde) version offered on the menu is hearty and tasty. It has nothing to do with my childhood, as I never even heard of it until I started traveling in Mexico to write about regional cuisines in my 20’s, and then I became fond of the Posole Rojo (or red chile version). Posole Verde, as served at El Real is not available at most taquerias in Houston and is excellent.
Somehow, you always have to mention the Rio Grande Valley when discussing most Tex-Mex dishes. Not too long after “Mama” Ninfa Laurenzo popularized what are recognized as fajitas today (she introduced them as Tacos al Carbon) across the United States around 1972, I was one of VERY few gringos to cook in the World Championship Fajita Cookoff in Mission, Texas on the banks of the Rio Grande in the early 80’s. Having eaten and cooked fajitas for over 35 years, I can tell you that The Beef Fajitas at El Real are as good as any I’ve had in Houston. They were tender enough that I mentioned to diners at the next table that it was as if they had come pre-chewed. The marinade was not dependent upon salt for its flavor, as is so often the case today. I would have eaten all of my order, but I wanted to take some home for Sally to enjoy.
Puffy Tacos are Tex-Mex treat that I don’t remember seeing anywhere but San Antonio. I love ‘em and at the risk of appearing to write a puff piece about El Real, I suggest that you try them. They are the authentic San Antonio item and the chicken ones I had were delicious. Choose from chicken, piccadillo, or pork. They’re much crispier than the standard, typical deep fried corn tortilla taco, in my opinion. You’ll not find them anywhere else in Houston.
Are you wondering what the big deal is about Tex-Mex food and why a restaurant might promote its food as “vintage Tex-Mex”? After all, restaurants claiming to serve it are now all over the United States… and certainly in Houston. For one thing, from MY perspective, El Real harkens back to the days when the term Tex-Mex unapologetically meant a regional staple food genre… not a test of manhood. It was a style of cooking and dining that was the way entire families in south Texas ate most of their meals… and it was the fuel for the day rather than a contest to test the huevos of a man and his buddies.
After your meal, don’t forget to look around upstairs through what amounts to a Tex-Mex Houston museum. Photos and items such as menus, matchbooks and mementos of Houston’s icons of Mexican food, such as Felix Tijerina and Leo Reynosa are in glass cases and were curated with the help of Houston foodie Jay Francis.
El Real Tex-Mex Café is open daily for lunch and dinner at 1201 Westheimer at Yoakum:
It “does my heart good” to visit a small business… a viable restaurant, owned and operated by a delightfully creative young chef who wasn’t born until five years after my first article about food was published in Houston! Chef Jamie Zelko is young in a chronological sense, but exudes creativity and a culinary vision beyond her age. In what looks from the street like many other small houses in the Heights, is Zelko Bistro… the creation of the former executive chef of the Lancaster Hotel in Houston’s theatre district. Chef Zelko calls her cuisine “New American Comfort” food.
A young diner next to us was polishing off a burger 50% bigger than her head and I wished I could have had a bite. Another dish one might expect to be served in the South, somewhat east of here are Fried Pickles… and if there are a couple of people in your party, there are seven of them, sweet and breaded in Captain Crunch and served with Zelko’s house-made Ranch dressing… a fun way to start off your meal.
Zelko Bistro is open Tuesday through Sunday for lunch and dinner with brunch on the weekends. All (ample) parking is behind the restaurant.